Torres del Paine, as the name states, is a national park in Chile with a lots of pain points this year. To be more precise, the number of visitors to the park just exploded a pas few years and what used to be "arrive to a free campsite and spend a night there" is now "you have to reserve all the campsites and refugios well in advance". I learnt this hard way when I was in Porvenir. I just went on a routine "let's plan Torres hike" and while I was looking at websites, my enjoyment went down. First of all, you need to book through three different systems because there are three campsite operators in the park (free sites by CONAF, and then two companies -- Vertice and Fantastico Sur). The three systems are different and not very easy to schedule a complex trip with. As it happened, the famous "W" hiking circuit was totally booked for the times I was hoping to visit the park. Instead, I decided to tak the "O" circuit but I still had booking problems -- the circuits overlap and I was unable to end my trip. In the end, I found this one day of really expensive accomodation at Refugio Grey and backtracked my trip from that. Unfortunately, because of the timing, it meant two hard days of 10 hours scheduled trail time. (At the booking time I did not have a map with the distances. Which was good otherwise I would probably not book it at all).
Start of the Torres del Paine trip does not look good. In the morning it is raining and I am taking taxi to the bus station which I share with a French couple. I am arriving at the park at 10am, standing there in an admission queue -- you need to fill in a formulaire, pay not-so-small entry fee and watch a video about rules. There are many rules but the basic ones are 1) no camping without reservation 2) absolutely no fire unless explicitly allowed. The second rules is stressed over and over because a few years ago there was a big fire in the park caused by tourists.
I take a connecting bus service and arrive in camping Central. This is a very huge place (was quite easy to book at the time when I was booking) and I will be staying two nights here.
After setting up a tent, I am going to my first trip. This is just a walk around Lago Nordenskjöld (sounds quite Swedish or Norwegian). After the morning rain the day is decent -- light drizzling is combined with the Sun, though the mountains are in the clouds so the views are only of the lake. In the end, my testing tour of ~18km lasted longer than I expected which is not a good sign because I was travelling very light and I will need to do some serious distances with a heavy backpack in a few days.
My plan for the second day in the park was to visit Torres viewing spot. As it turned out, I was very lucky because this is the best of the neighbouring days -- no rain, clouds are very high and thus I can see the mountains. Although, even today I wasn't spared of some ice falling from the sky and random gusts of wind.
While the main attraction of today is view of Torres, that is, high mountains, I am starting my trip through nice lush green forest. When I finally get up and see the Torres, the views are almost excellent. I cannot say 100% but I would give it 80% at least -- the peaks are a bit in the clouds but they show up fully from time to time. Thus I have a nice long lunch break and observe these natural beauties which can easily rival Switzerland's Dents du Midi -- Torres is definitely a good name because they really look like big towers.
On my way down, I am meeting Bernd - a cyclist from Germany (who recognizes that I am a cyclist just by looking at my Ortlieb camera bag) and we are chatting basically all the way down. It was a nice company and I learned a lot about my planned route, food which you can or can't get, etc.
I am back at camp at 5pm which is according to the hiking times. This improves my mood even more because I definitely will need the good hiking times for the two hard days I planned. Even the forecast looks promising.
The forecast was a bit optimistic I guess. I am waking up into a rainy morning and I have a really miserable day. Fortunately, it is a short day (12km, 4 hours planned although I took maybe 6). Basically, today was no sun, there was a lot of rain and probably even more mud. Really, if you are a mud (or mad) king, you should build your kingdom on the tracks of Torres del Paine. In the end, I arrive wet and cold at camping Seron and go to bed, ehm, sleeping bag, early. I also try to dry my clothes by sleeping in them which proves to be a semi good idea. Drying works very well but the sleeping bag ends up a bit wet because the water I evaporated ends up condensing on the sleeping bag itself.
Today is a hard day. My plan is to go from Seron through Dickson to Los Perros. This is around 27 kilometers and 10 hours of the trail time.
Morning is, as usual, bad. I am packing while it is raining and therefore everything (well, mostly the tent) is wet. At 7:30 I am already hiking towards my first destination -- a park ranger checkpoint at Coiron. Surprisingly, I arrive there at 10:30 which is according to the trail time so after the registration I have a quick snack. In the meantime, a lots of people arrive after me but I am leaving them behind -- the Sun shows up and it is a good time to make more kilometers.
The trail from Coiron to Dickson is mostly flat. One part of it is even on the wetlands which reminds me of the Kungsleden trail is Sweden. Fortunately, the quality of the trail is better than in Kungsleden and when on top of a final hill before the Dickson, I am treated with a nice view of a river with floating icebergs on it.
I reach Dickson at the planned time, have a lunch there and leave for my last part of the trip. The trail goes through the green forest but I am feeling the hardness of the day and I am really slowing down. In the end I reach Los Perros at 7:40pm (well past the planned time) and it is raining again but I am happy that I made it. And just before that I had a chance to spot the Los Perros glacier before it disappered into the clouds.
Guess what -- I am waking up to the rainy morning. December isn't quite the best season for hiking in Torres. I am learning that March would be a much better choice because it is dryer but the temperatures are still ok. But then, I am not planning to stay here till the March. Fortunately, the morning quickly turns out to better. And this is good -- I forgot my rain jacket in the common room at the camping and as it turns out, I am really lucky because it is not going to heavily rain in the next three days.
After I climb enough to leave the forest, the scenery suddenly shifts from the green to standard high alpine terrain -- just mountains, rocks and glaciers. There is some wind and a very bit of snowfall but this is mostly symbolic. After reaching the highest point of my trek - Paso John Garner - I am rewarded for my hardship with a view on the enormous Glacier Grey. The size of this beast is really impressive.
Going down from the pass is not so easy as I imagined. The road is steep and once I am back in the forest, it starts to be a bit muddy. Although there are a lot of steps and rails, going down is still very slow because I need to be careful not to slip. Thus I am really happy to reach camp Paso from which the road is not so steep anymore.
From camp paso the weather is really good, the views on the glacier are amazing and two high bridges I need to cross are a bonus. And while this section is only 7 kilometres, it takes me a very long time because I am again slowing down.
After I reach Refugio Grey where I will be sleeping in a bed (in the end, a bit of luxury isn't that bad, especially after a few days in wet tent). Because the Sun is shiking I immediatelly spread out my things on the grass to dry. Later I decide to walk to a viewpoint over the Glacier but the weather is Patagonian and it suddenly changes. I need to quickly walk back to the Refugio and I am able to collect my drying things before the downpour starts.
Today's start is quite nice, it is not raining so far and I have only 3-4 hours of planned walk. The wind forecast from few days ago shows that today should be quite windy which is true -- when I reach a viewpoint, I have some problems going against the wind. Fortunately, the rest of my trek is in the direction of the wind and is mostly not so windy. Views are changing, one time it is mountains, the next time there is the glacier.
When I finally reach Paine Grande, the weather doesn't look so good anymore. So I end up in the common room. But before that I enjoy a bit of luxury and buy a 1 liter pack of chocolate milk. It goes very well with the lunch. And I am also meeting Kiran and his wife -- and American Indian couple that walked the same circuit and we chat a lot. Kiran wants me to send a postcards to his 8-year-old niece from the places I visit (which I think is an amazing thing to do) so I hope he won't forget to fill out my postcard form.
In the end, I am staying at Paine Grande till 5pm when the catamaran arrives and we are ferried to the other side of the lake where the busses stop. I wanted to do some more hiking today but the weather isn't looking exciting and I am quite tired anyway. So I just sit in the bus for one hour until it departs to Puerto Natales. (Seriously, why there are only two times the busses go to/from the park? It is especially weird beucase the busses are operated by multiple companies and they are just synchronized in this stupid way).
Download simplified GPX of a route here
Stats by activity:
| Pedal rotations
|Dec. 16, 2016||18.4||0.48||12.7|
|Dec. 17, 2016||21.7||1.13||12.9|
|Dec. 18, 2016||14.8||0.27||10.0|
|Dec. 19, 2016||31.5||1.20||10.4|
|Dec. 20, 2016||18.3||1.02||9.8|
|Dec. 21, 2016||24.5||0.49||11.5|
The next table is only for cycling activity.